Last But Not Least

27 Sep

Number 200.  Somewhere in the past that became a goal and now it has been reached.  At the end of all things comes a time of reflection.  baby three 001What does Baruk see as he looks through the glass?  He is four years old.  Maybe just a white man with a camera?  He loves setting behind the wheel and pretending to be a big man driving a car.  Although he was among the least a couple years back, he is no longer there.  His future is as bright as his eyes and smile.  His mom is a single young woman, hard working, intelligent, and courageous.  She awakens early and comes to clean the neighboring office building.  Then she comes to work and makes purses.   Because she has committed herself to a positive new direction, God has given her a new heart.   Her son does not have to know being last with no opportunity.

Along the way, while writing the blog, what have I learned while standing on the other side of the glass and presenting snapshots of a different world?  Opportunity…the possibility of a hopeful direction.  Comparison…viewing those opportunities in light of the chances we perceive others have or do not have.

When we have been given a life where opportunity exists, it is almost impossible to comprehend a life where opportunity does not exist.  There is just not a framework for comparison.  In some ways we all take turns setting in someone else’s car, looking through the glass, and pretending to be in their world.  Only as adults, we do not do it in innocence, we do it by comparing.   It is said, “Those who compare themselves by themselves are not wise.”  Is that not a part of what we refer to as culture; a group of people living within and maintaining a certain set of standards by doing just that?

It is a two edged sword.  There is comfort and security in staying there.  With the have-ers.  The true have-not-ers make us uncomfortable to think on.  But the other edge, as we look among ourselves, we begin to worry that we are, in fact, a have-not-er living in the midst of the have-ers.  And then we want more so we can be sure to stay with or above the other have-ers.  And opportunities to share with the have-not-ers slip away.  Continuing opportunity must be preserved.  There are those looking through the glass and pretending that one day they will be like us.

As I think on the white man with the camera and what God is working on in him, I am so thankful that God has given me a chance to take some “pictures.”  A have-er with the have-not-ers.  That, in allowing me to do this, he has chipped away at my have-er status.  He has allowed me to experience the lives of the have-not-ers, and be a part of sharing opportunity…the possibility of a hopeful direction.  Along the way, I hope that my sharing with you has allowed you to be sifted in just a fraction of how God has sifted me and will continue to three 006Yesterday, I helped Tadelech and her new son return to their home after he was born the day before.  She came to our clinic in labor. He presented himself to the world face first and got stuck in the birth canal.  It seemed that a C-section was the only possible life saving choice.  While we waited for the doctor to come to perform this our staff prayed for his opportunity…for life.  The midwife made another attempt to re-position the baby to crown first and get him unstuck.  And he moved and entered the world.  In many ways we are like him and God attempts to re-position us.  He wants us delivered, His Crown first, for His Glory.

After this photo, we arrived at Tadelech’s home.  Eight feet by ten feet.  Mud floor.  Mud/manure walls.  Tin roof lean-to.  Two other children.  Comparison.  Will the future bring more opportunity for a have-not-er?  This is where Baruck started, with the last but now he is not the least.  Tadelech’s son is.  But we continue to share hope with hearts.

As for me, will I stop writing as I stop blogging, probably not, maybe I will write a book.

Not Yet Begun To Climb

24 Sep

IMG_4043Several months ago, while visiting the Gheralta Mountain area of northern Ethiopia, I embarked on a mountain climbing adventure with some friends.  The picture shows the very beginning of the assent.   At our first rest stop, everybody looked at the old guy and asked how I was doing.  I rehearsed the story of John Paul Jones and his famous quote but changed it slightly to fit our occasion, “I have not yet begun to climb.”  So for the rest of the climb when anybody felt fatigue setting in, they would spout, “I have not yet begun to climb.”

Perseverance in any task at times can seem daunting.    Emotions and psychology play the bigger part even in the cases of tasks which  require physical endurance.  Sometimes the perseverance is not physical.  So much so that we have coined a number of phrases: pressing on,  holding out, persistently endure,  hands to the plow, and keeping our nose to the grindstone.  But what about spiritual perseverance? While on the upward trail, do we ever encourage ourselves with, “I have not yet begun to climb!”…or serve, or overcome discouragement, or resist evil.

When we become spiritually weary, what is it that we share with ourselves to encourage hope in our own hearts that the struggle is worth the sacrifice.  When we are emotionally down, do we focus on the steepness of the trail in front of us or look behind to see how far we will tumble if we fail?  When we were on the mountain, it was hand-hold following hand-hold and foot-hold after foot-hold, focusing on what was in front of our faces.  Present challenge matched by present grace.

John Paul Jones’ ship was aflame and going down when he uttered his famous courageous phrase.  We summon equal spiritual courage from an ever faithful Father.  We continue on the steep and thorny way, and share hope with your hearts, “We have not yet begun to climb!” Forever we praise His name!

“You! You!”

18 Sep

Foreinge, Foreinge!”  Rhymes with syringe.  Like when you go to the dentist.  It means, “foreigner.”  It is about as much fun to hear as, “Open wide, this won’t hurt me a bit.”  It is really not hard to realize that there is still, after two plus years, an obvious difference, in our appearance, from 98 percent of the people we meet here in Ethiopia.  Many days we do not see another white face, but everyday we are seen…and noticed.  “Birr! Birr! Money! Money!”  Everyday, it is the consistent herald as we attempt to walk anywhere in public.  Everyday that is, except Sunday,…but only if we go straight to church and come straight home.  If we are stopped in traffic at a red light.  If we go to the post office,  grocery store, or bank.  Even if we get out of our car to let ourselves into our compound when the guards are not there.  Everyday. “Open wide, this won’t hurt me a bit.”  Is it a natural human reaction to want to avoid those things that are irritating?  Or is it better to just retort back with humorous sarcasm something like, “You’re kidding, when I shaved this morning my face was black.  What happened!”

Birr! Birr!”  These remarks are not said to non-whites, yet there is nothing even remotely racial in the utterance.  Rather it is an uneducated, slightly disrespectful, or undisciplined habit of mostly young people.  “You! You!” means that I have just noticed that you are different from me and I would like to get your attention so you will notice me and that I am different from you.  Same for the, “Foreinge, Foreinge!”  The opposite word is habesha.  On one occasion when I was called foreinge, I responded with, “Endea! Nech habesha neng!”  (Are you kidding, I am a white Ethiopian.)  Once he closed his dropped-open mouth, he forgot to follow with, “Money! Money!”

You! You!”  Even minor irritations like a drop of water falling on your forehead, done with repetitive monotony can become a major distraction,a downright aggravation, or even torturous.  Avoidance therapy does not really work all that well.  Complete isolation, for aggravation’s sake, from the people we desire to serve does not share hope with hearts.  But the temptation is there and if we succumb, our house turns into a self-imposed prison.

Aggravation avoidance… “You! You!”…for me.  Drip…Drip…Drip…

What is it for you-you?

Changed Heart, New Choice

14 Sep

Circumstances dictate decisions, perhaps more than faith, for many people.  Thoughts originating in the mind bring about selections that lead each of us toward what we think will be the best option for the days still to come.  But this thinking process often is dramatically affected by something we call the “heart”.  Emotional needs and personal preferences based on what we feel will satisfy those needs often prevails over what we would call convictions.  Choice…the Creator’s free will gift to mankind, as the ultimate proof of the love of that Creator.

What happens then when those circumstances are the worst of the worst.  Malignant poverty.  Being all alone due to loss of family and community support structures.  Being pregnant.  Societies cast away.  No safety net provided by government programs.  Can choice take a person in the wrong direction in relation to that life-loving compassionate Creator?  What powers choice for a young lady in those conditions?  Convictions?  Convenience?  Condemnation?  Chances for happiness and well being?  Circumstances affecting continuing existence?

Tirunesh came to that exact place in her life.  She came from a family background of faith and faced a decision that she thought would affect the continued existence of two lives.  Hers and the baby she was carrying.  She faced a choice.  She chose to have an Ethiopian abortion early in that pregnancy.  For some miraculous reason, it was unsuccessful.  She gave birth to a little girl one month ago and found her heart changed in the moment of holding her little girl for the first time.  Even surrounded by the hopeless circumstances of her situation of life on the street of Addis Abeba, one thing was clear, being this little babies momma was the new conviction that would dictate any future decision regardless of desperation.  She came to our drop in center to ask for our help two weeks ago.  She knows that for her little girl to have a chance, she must make choices from the place of a changed heart.  Some call it rehabilitation, some call it reintegration into normal society.  We call it sharing hope with hearts.  For Tirunesh, she will come to call it Compassion…coming from the source of True Compassion.

When It Rains…

11 Sep

…it pours.  Feast or famine.  “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…A time to get, and a time to lose; ,…a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together,..a time to keep and a time to cast away.”  

In Ethiopia, the year 2005 has just roared to a close, gone out like a lion.  You have heard Kidist’s story in the last post.  Two days later, Ababech returned to our clinic.  It was not her first time there.  On the first occasion she came in the early morning and entered our emergency room.  She had obvious scratches and bruises .  She was 8 months pregnant.   She was having some contractions, but no dilation or broken water, and experiencing some symptoms of anxiety and perhaps mild shock if there is such a medical term.  Our staff administered oxygen, treated her wounds and did an exam to determine the status of her pregnancy.  There was a heartbeat.  We listened to her story and the contractions subsided.  She was relieved to know the baby had survived.

Now she was back.  In advanced labor.  By noon we were taking pictures of a healthy little boy and celebrating the blessing God had brought into Ababech’s life and the opportunity we had been given to minister in her experiences.  In her “time to keep”, her “time to get”, according to the purposes under heaven.

There will be a future, “the-rest-of-the-story”, for Ababech and her son and God knows that story.  He must have something in mind for the potential of this little boy’s life that almost wasn’t.  I am glad you wanted to know more about the details leading up to the first time Ababech came to the clinic one month ago.  She was on the street.  She got into a car with a man.  When he found out she was pregnant, she was taken to a remote place, beaten, and thrown out of the car like garbage.  Her famine, her time to experience being cast away.

Now, we can minister in her time to heal, her time to be built up.

So for us at the end of 2005,  it is pouring opportunities to share hope with hearts.  It is a feast.  Not food.  Opportunities to love.


What Goes Up…

7 Sep

The stock market.  Hot air balloons and home-made rockets.  Politician public opinion polls.  There was a lyric line made famous by a group called Blood, Sweat, and Tears when I was a wee lad still wet behind the ears.  Its reference was not to gravity but to the emotional roller coaster of life.  The cycles, the ebb and flow of success and failure, of happy times and strife, of sailing through the heavens and drowning in the sea.  The spinning wheel of life would be in constant motion and the merry-go-round ride on the “painted pony” carried one though the isolated times of just hanging on.  “You got no money, and you, you got no home, spinning wheel, spinning all alone.”

But what happens when the music doesn’t start, or the carousel never turns.  For Kidest, her life was like that.  In labor, no husband, no suitcase full of necessities for after the delivery… just sitting on the bench where beneficiaries wait for an entrance card when I walked into the clinic waiting area at 7:00 am.  She would become our first OB ward patient as soon as the midwife arrived.  Twelve hours of labor later with no progress she became our first referral to a hospital.  Two rejections at two hospitals with no empty beds after that, she was given a chance to be admitted to a third hospital if she could pay 5000 birr.  She had only 300, which was the equivalent of two weeks worth of her potential earnings.  LSM put down the advance payment.  All through the night she toiled.  The next morning the baby was delivered by C-section because of suspected pelvic dysplasia.  A girl.  Still in recovery, two days later Kidist had made no attempt to feed the baby and the OB doctor called and said, “We think Kidist is planning to abandon the baby at the hospital.  You better come and talk with her.”

“Do you want to keep your baby, Kidist?”

“How can I?  I got no money, and I got no home, and in life I am all alone.”  The spinning wheel had ground to a halt at Hopeless.

“Kidist, God brought you to LSM and with their support He allowed your daughter to be born alive and healthy and for you to survive your delivery.  If you had enough money for food and shelter, do you want to keep your baby and be her mommy?”  The music softly started again and the tears began to dry.  “We can support you with $40 a month.  That will buy food and pay your rent and you won’t have to go back to street-life.”  Hope’s assent was betrayed by the wistful look on her face that asked, “Why are you doing this for me?”

So…what is going up?  Another opportunity to share hope with hearts.  When we left I said, “Tebareku!” and motioned with two fingers.  It is the plural form, “God bless you…both of you.”  She smiled.

Dare to Care

2 Sep

A couple of months ago while I was recovering from shingles and had trouble sleeping at night, these song lyrics came to my mind based on an experience that occurred on a night visit.  For some, it will be too raw.  I am very sorry, I am not trying to cause offense so please forgive me if it is a step past your comfort level.  Actually, it really ought to be more than a step past.

Dare to Care

1.  She lived down on the street by the bus depot, near Addis’ biggest shoppin’ district, Mercato.

Her eyes were dark as coal and as deep as a well, but they had to hide the secret of her own private hell.

She fluttered to the window of the van I rode; a beauteous butterfly in flirtatious mode.

One hand on her hip and the other in her hair, “Don’t you think I’m pretty, Do you care to dare?”

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

2.  Her eyes were dark as coal and as deep as a well, but they tried to hide the secret of her own private hell.

She flaunted and she primped with ‘perience past her years, but behind those smoldering orbs; I could see all the fears.

I rolled down the window and I beckoned her there, I asked, “Where are your Mom and Dad,

Do you care to share?  Do you care to share?”

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

3. Her eyes were dark as coal and as deep as a well, but they could not hide the secret of her own private hell.

A tear ran down her cheek as she started to say, “Mommy died of HIV and Daddy ran away.

My brother’s only four, hid behind that seat, and if I just pull a trick, he’ll be able to eat.”

With burning eyes starin’ into I don’t know where; “Just to be curious, what is the fare?”

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

4.  “I know that my body’s not what it will be, but I have hidden treasures I am sure you will see.

Delights that pretend men want me to bare and share.”

Hardly able to breathe, I asked, “How old can you be?”  When she said her answer, I heard Holy terror.

“I am 16, good Sir; I’ll have you to know,” but those deep dark pools said it just wasn’t so.

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

5.  I asked again kindly, “How much younger is your frère over there?”

Her eyes were dark as pools and deep as a well.

How much older would they get?  It wasn’t hard to tell.

She answered my question.  I did my math then; to my horrification, she was only ten.

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?

6.  For food worth two bucks, she took the HIV dare; another mouth to feed, …for love; she had to share.

How much did it cost her to strip her soul bare?  What if it was my granddaughter standin’  there?

When I share her story, do I dare to care?

Really dare to care?

She should be playin’ dollies and with teddy bears, she should have a momma doin’ her hair,

And she should have a papa protectin’ her fair; when people hear her story, do they dare to care?  Please.  Dare to care?


22 Aug

Bahir Dar Gonder 2012 110

Summertime.  Vacation sights and traveling.  Being away for awhile.  We used to send post cards.  Do you remember? “Wish you were here!”   We sent those words as a standard closing knowing that we might even arrive at the post card destination before the words were read.  “WYWH!!!”  Now we send emails with digital pictures attached or post on a social site and so the race to beat the post card home has passed into yesteryear.  I wonder how often we really think about the sincerity of that vacation benediction when we post it or write it.  It was meant to be a vague reference of missing someone and a twinge of lonely.  That is its significance in our hearts when we know the time interval of the reunion is measured in days or a week, maybe two.  What is its significance when we know the time interval is measured in three months, one-half year, or longer.  Do the words still float off the fingertips onto a keyboard or cell phone pad or do they then accompany a palpable gnawing ache in the heart?  Does WYWH ever mean WIWT?  The person away from home has usually accepted the necessity of a brief absence from the person still at home. otherwise they would not have went.  Subtract briefness, does it change the equation?

Acceptance of necessity does somewhat erase an elongated time interval.  But without God sharing hope in our hearts of the truths of His economy of sacrifice, are there  times we would close with, “Having  great time. Wish I Was There.”  Sometimes it is a realization of calling that beckons us back from the wallow of self pity and entitlement.  Sometimes it is feeling ashamed of our feelings.  This time it is missing you with more than a twinge of lonely, but having full confidence that God is ever present and supplies His grace to meet our every need.

Does absence make the heart grow fonder?  You bet!


18 Aug

IMG_4130 Illumination

The difference between darkness and light; sometimes it is just an open door.  The difference between despair and hope is often the same…doorways, into a dark empty room or into a dark empty heart.  A blind man living in this room-cave would not understand the difference an open door can make.  But if the scales fell from his eyes and vision was restored, at first, even a small degree of illumination might cause pain.  With his eyes physically, but just as true with his spirit in his figurative world.  There, the security of his darkness masks the starkness of his surroundings when contrasted with the lives beyond the door; maybe our lives.

Even for us who think we live in the light, opening the door of our awareness, many times brings discomfort.  It is easier to live in our own kind of darkness and lack of illumination.  It is easier to remain willfully unaware of the obscure struggles we keep blocked out of our lives on the other side of the door.  While others live in the darkness, we maintain a lite-ness in our lives through a dread of opening the door and it soothes our need for living comfortably in security.  It is less painful to keep the door shut.  Without guilt for lives in the light of affluence.  We allow the door to remain closed.   Ignorance maintains the bliss.  The hurt we fear to look upon in the lives of those on the dark side of the door keeps us from sharing hope with their hearts and opening the door to their darkness.

We can cast off our propensities for excesses, entertainment, and ego-centric, self-indulgence; then, it is easier to open the door.  It does require more than the lite life.  It requires the LIght.  A sacrifice in a life.  Open a door into someones darkness.  Share hope.  The Light flowing through you comes from an infinite supply.

Life’s Work

15 Aug

IMG_4259Interior Column of Rock Hewed Church

Go back in time.  Before the Pinta, Nina, and the Santa Maria.  Continue on back another two hundred years.  Select your favorite hammer and chisel from your tool box.  Its the first day on the job.  Your vision and your commitment for the next 40 years or so is to come to work every morning and listen to a slow beat of, clink, clink, clink.  You pause every little bit to haul away the gravel and then pick up the hammer and chisel once again.  Slowly, you work your way into a hollow spot you have formed in the mountain.  After years of toil, the hollow spot becomes a room and after more years of toil, the room becomes large enough to need a column to support the ceiling.  Maybe,…maybe others have joined in your vision.  So you carve around being careful what you leave and what you cast away.  After more years, the column and the arches above your head appear.  Your hope is to create a place of worship, but you know that someone else will have to pick up your vision for soon your time will be over and the vision left for the next generation.  And every day you pick up your hammer and chisel.  Sometimes it is not clear whether the man with the hammer is shaping the rock, or if the rock is shaping the man with the hammer. But the light of hope in your heart never dims because you sense the God who formed the rock is the same God giving you strength to transform it and that all along He had a hammer and chisel in His hand as well transforming you.  Each day you glory in the Creator and His Creation and each day you trust that in some small way, what you leave behind will be a glory unto that Creator.  In the end, your secret wish is that the room you carved with your life’s work could have been bigger…His Glory was always, and will continue to be worthy.